Friday, September 7, 2007

Nuclear reactors in Asia

Japan is again having problems with a nuclear reactor, this time a research reactor. This is just after the problems with a nuclear plant after the recent earthquake.

This, along with the increased interest with nuclear energy lately, leads me to think about the use of nuclear energy in Asia.

There are two issues which must be looked at safety and nuclear waste.

There have been safety/environmental problems not only Japan, but in Britain, US, Ukraine (Chernobyl), etc.

Thailand, my home, recently pushed the idea of a nuclear energy reactor - done with big fanfare and a visit by the head of the IAEA. Yet this is the same country that recently could not get a new research reactor, because the design was refused certification by international bodies. I also heard many years ago the then head of the Office of Atomic Energy for Peace say that we do not need to worry about nuclear waste because it degrades in about 10 years! Thailand also had a major scare when recyclers opened a canister of radioactive cobalt-60, a gamma emmitter, which had been thown away in the regular trash by a hospital.

The question is if countries such as UK and Japan cannot insure safe operation of nuclear power plants, how can countries with poor environmental and safety regulations cope.

The other issue is storage of radioactive waste. There is no safe storage method for it. (Yes, the nuclear industry says we can bury it under ground. But they have been saying that for 30 years and have yet to dispose of any waste). Considering this and the fact that their is almost no capacity for handling non-radioactive hazardous waste, what are they going to do? It is interesting that this has not been discussed at all.

No, nuclear energy is not necessary to save the Earth. The risks are to great and I think Asia (and the rest of the world) should avoid nuclear energy and get more sustainable energy alternatives.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Update on Biofuels

In the field of the environment things often fall together in unexpected ways. I have blogged previously on the concerns of biofuels. Last week the World Land Trust in an article in Science magazine, point out that we can save more carbon emmissions by not cutting down forests in order to plant crops for biofuels, then the biofuels themselves would save.

Worldwatch, in response to the publicity of the Science article, then came out with a very good statement about biofuels, which I think hit the nail on the head. It makes an important distinction between first generation biofuels -- where crops are grown specifically for biofuel production, and second generation biofuels -- those which use waste products to produce the biofuels. Whereas first generation biofuels create problems, second generation biofuels are acceptable and a good use of a waste product.

The Worldwatch comment on sustainability is

A sustainable future depends on a diversified energy supply—one that takes advantage first of savings from energy efficiency, and then relies on a range of renewable energy sources, including wind energy, solar power, and fuels derived from biomass. (emphasis added)

That is exactly my own view.

Their last paragraph is also very to the point.
So, nothing is simple, but nothing is impossible either. Biofuels can do harm—but they can do a lot of good too. When evaluating them, as when evaluating any technologies, it is imperative that we take the time to consider the full range of factors to assess whether they are really sustainable or not.